Film buffs of Southwestern Ontario, unite!

Southwestern Ontario is bursting with talent, with plenty of homegrown musicians, artists, and actors making big things happen. This weekend, the fruits of London filmmakers’ labours will be seen on-screen for all to see.

Many talented people in the film industry call Southwestern Ontario home. Up until recently, however, there weren’t many opportunities celebrating cinema connected to the region.

That is where the Forest City Film Fest comes to play.

An Audience clapping at the Forest City Film Festival.
If you want to watch more regional films, you’re in luck! Photo by Dorothy Downs.

Inspiration for the festival

Executive Director Dorothy Downs wanted to create the Forest City Film Festival after she and her son Matthew attended the Raindance Film Festival in London, England. She co-produced his short film, All Fight that played at Raindance.

“On the way back home, I started thinking how sad it is that he’s been in this international festival but yet, nobody at home is going to see this film,” Downs explained.

Downs said she researched and discovered that London, Ontario is the only city of its size that previously did not have a long-running film festival.

She added that while most film festivals focus on international films, the Forest City Film Festival provides a market for films tied to places from Windsor to Burlington, and everywhere in between.

“I think it’s really good that we’re able to celebrate the local and the successes that go beyond local,” Downs said. “They don’t have to create the film here in the region.”

Movie poster for "Beatriz at Dinner"
London, Ontario’s own Aaron Gilbert produced “Beatriz at Dinner.” Photo courtesy of Dorothy Downs.

She uses Aaron Gilbert, president and CEO of Bron Studios as an example. His film Beatriz at Dinner is featured because Gilbert is from London. Other films on the bill include The River of My Dreams, Bruno and Boots, and Kittie: Origins/Evolutions.

Both Kittie and documentary filmmaker Rob McCallum are from London, Ontario. Star of Bruno and Boots and YTV star Jonny Gray is also a Londoner. Fanshawe College produced the animations for The River of My Dreams.

Double, Double

Around 1,500 people saw films connected to Southwestern Ontario at the festival in 2016.

People lining up at the Forest City Film Festival.
Around 1,500 people attended the 2016 Forest City Film Festival. Downs expects about 3,000 this year. Photo courtesy of Dorothy Downs.

After the Forest City Film Festival’s successful first year, Downs said she wants it to grow larger still.

“We wanted to give the audience a feeling of the type of the event that we are running,” Downs said. “We did a great job last year and this year, we’ve been able to build on that.”

There are 18 total programs at the 2017 event, in comparison to 11 the year before. Downs said she wants to see twice the number of attendees at this year’s festival. Animated films and screenplays are also up for competition.

If you’re an aspiring filmmaker, it’s the place to be. There festival is hosting plenty of industry sessions to teach budding filmmakers about everything from pitching to scoring. The workshops run from Friday to Sunday.

Giving aspiring filmmakers opportunities

In addition to showcasing Southwestern Ontario’s finest films, the Forest City Film Festival provides opportunities for Western University and Fanshawe College film students in well, the Forest City.

Downs said the festival has interns from both Western and Fanshawe at different times of the year. Fanshawe students intern between January to April, whereas the Western students help out during the festival itself. This is in addition to their volunteer crew of 75 people.

Interns focus on blogging, social media, and public relations under the supervision of the festival’s marketing and PR committee. Downs encourages other film students to look for non-academic opportunities to gain experience.

“We have some amazing professional development experiences that cross over to help filmmakers make professional connections and gain amazing knowledge,” Downs said.

Support by getting involved

When asked how Londoners can support films tied to Southwestern Ontario after the event, Downs wasn’t sure what to say at first.

“I don’t think I can really come up with an easy answer for that other than get involved,”  she said. “Reach out to the film festival and offer your expertise, or offer your volunteer time, or donate to the festival to allow us to keep building and growing this work.”

The Audience at Forest City Film Festival
You can support Southwestern Ontario films by communicating with the Forest City Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Dorothy Downs.

In the meantime, Downs encourages everyone to attend the Forest City Film Festival. The event takes over the Wolf Performance Hall from October 26-29.

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